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New Cuban eatery giving Latino recovering addicts a fresh start

Launched by Matilde Castiel, MD, Café Reyes in Worcester provides job training, motivation

  Matilde Castiel, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine
  Café Reyes is the vision of Matilde Castiel, MD, executive director of the Latin American Health Alliance Hector Reyes House.

As the salsa rhythm and the savory smells of perfectly roasted Pan Con Lechon with mojo sauce entice the senses, one cannot help but feel transported to a Cuban oasis. However, Café Reyes, at 421 Shrewsbury St. in Worcester, is more than your typical eatery.

Café Reyes, the vision of Matilde Castiel, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine, is staffed primarily by hardworking, friendly and attentive residents of Hector Reyes House, a residential program for Latino men recovering from substance abuse.

“Those who struggle with substance abuse and potentially get incarcerated aren’t able to sustain jobs,” said Dr. Castiel, executive director of the Latin American Health Alliance Hector Reyes House. “They don’t have the skills to find or keep jobs. We teach them those skills—from the importance of arriving on time to writing resumes. We want them to get to a point where they can find jobs on their own and maintain those jobs.”

“Being in a supportive and comfortable environment at Café Reyes gives the men the confidence that they can do it,” she said. “It keeps them occupied, motivated and integrated in the community.”

Chef and general manager Kenny Bourbeau, whose family has dealt with substance abuse, commended the staff for getting the authentic Cuban eatery open this winter. There will be a grand opening on Tuesday, March 10.

“The guys have been working for months on end to get this place open and running,” said Bourbeau. “The goal is to financially become sustainable, tap into the social enterprise and educate the public. Where we are today has blown my expectations out of the water. This just shows what people are willing to do to help the problem.”

Bourbeau hopes to see the men transition to full-time jobs in other locations by having job placements already set up.

For the employees, working at Café Reyes goes beyond just having a stable job.

“We get to develop the soft skills—responsibility and reliability,” said Jesus Rivera, who works at Café Reyes and lives at Hector Reyes House. “We are learning to be less sensitive to criticism and take it as something we can do better. However, the best part is that all of us work great together and have a positive attitude. It isn’t just one person doing one thing—we all share responsibility.

“For us at Hector Reyes, we come here and it’s ‘Café Reyes,’ an extension of the house. We are not thinking short term. We are thinking long term. We were given this chance, and it’s something that is going to make us better.”

Many community members are strong supporters of the concept behind Café Reyes and its food. One customer mentioned the importance of supporting local community businesses, especially those that help recovering addicts, who are still our neighbors. Another remarked that the food was fantastic, the service was excellent and the atmosphere was great.

Hector Reyes House opened in April 2009. It is the only substance abuse treatment facility for Latino males in Central Massachusetts. Operated by the Latin American Health Alliance, it allows for culturally competent care in substance abuse recovery. Casa Reyes, a transitional home next door, provides less expensive sober housing for graduates of the program. It was founded by Hector E. Reyes, a community activist in Worcester.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services in 2012, 27 percent of people admitted to treatment facilities for substance abuse were Hispanic. Of all those admitted in Worcester, 11 percent were unemployed, 6 percent were homeless, 42 percent had prior mental health treatment and 58 percent were between 21 and 39 years old.

An article, “Unemployment and Substance Outcomes in the United States 2002-2010” from the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal in January 2014, found that unemployment was strongly associated with problematic use of substances. Data from this cross sectional study was taken from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health.

Another source, the Current Drug Abuse Reviews, found that unemployment increases the risk of relapse after drug and alcohol addiction treatment. An important distinction is that unemployment alone does not cause relapse; many other factors are at play.

Café Reyes is an example of a possible solution, offering the employment, skills and support needed to help those struggling with substance abuse while simultaneously allowing them to be involved in the community.

Related links on UMassMedNow:
27th annual MLK tribute honors service, civility and diversity (with video of Hector Reyes House)
Women’s Faculty Awards celebrate achievements

Dinah Gorelik is a second-year medical student at UMMS.